I entered the ToS back in April. Bill sent a group e-mail out and, feeling like I’d been slacking recently and therefore needed a challenge, jumped at it. When I looked at the parcours: two time trials, a crit and two road races; I thought that it kinda suited me. I’m not great at road races, especially hilly ones, but was up for the pushing myself. The two TTs and crit would mean that I wouldn’t make a complete fool of myself. However, when the organisers announced that the first stage was in fact a hill climb up Ditchling Beacon I wasn’t very happy…
Leading up to the Tour I tried to ramp up the training as much as family and work commitments allowed – i.e. probably not enough, but it’d have to do. I’d also volunteered for some more HIIT lab testing at the university, which helped a fair bit. I managed to lose about 5kg of weight, which got me down to 70kgs, but could’ve done with losing a couple more TBH.
The weekend before the start disaster struck – I was out with another Bigfoot rider on the Sunday when my BMC SLR01 disintegrated. I had been travelling at 45kmh downhill when the rear dropout failed sending my rear derailleur into my rear wheel. I stayed upright but the bike was toast. I was going to have to use my trusty old Felt, which needed some serious TLC. So I got home that day and spent the afternoon changing cables and regreasing the headset. Luckily a couple of days before the ToS the wheels I’d won coming second at the Rapha London Nocturne turned up, so I put some new tyres, latex tubes and a new cassette on them. The Felt was like new again, again. I was going to miss the 11 speed DI2 and power meter though.
Stage 1 – DITCHLING BEACON
The stage was only very short, but a brutal climb to be racing up. I got to the HQ nice and early and waited for Bill. Earlier in the day we’d learned that Dave wasn’t going to be able to make the race. I was particularly gutted as Dave is more my sort of build, unlike Bill and Richard who are both skinny hill climbers. I went for a warm up with Rich and Bill up the Beacon. Their warm up pace was close to my limit and my heart rate was maxing out just trying to keep up with them. This isn’t looking good, what am I doing here?!
I was to set off after Rich and Bill. there’d be no chance of catching them whatsoever, but at least Dave not being there meant the next rider behind me would start 2 minutes after me, so I *should* be able to not get caught. The first part of the course was a false flat, which invited one to blast up it into the climb. If I’d done that I’d be in the red as soon as the gradient kicked up properly. I went at about 80%, which combined with the slight gradient and headwind, felt very slow for a TT. I managed to keep my cadence and breathing under control for the first half of the climb. When I started to feel the lactate build up in my body I panicked and decided it’d be a good idea to push harder. So I gave it the beans and went deep into the reserves. Bad move. I was already in the red and now both my legs and lungs were begging me to stop. Going round the next bend I realised that I still had a way to go yet. The urge to stop was very close to overwhelming, and I was worried I might literally explode. But the shame of stopping would’ve felt worse, so I dug deeper and kept going. There were a few people dotted up the ride cheering us on, nearing the end of the climb this gave me the boost I needed. I rolled over the finish line and up to a grass bank where I collapsed, still clipped in, panting to try and get some oxygen into my blood. My heart rate had been over 180bpm for a few minutes there – I needed a lie down!!!
Got the results later on, 56th (out of 79), very happy not to be last. Rich and Bill both managed to place in the top 10, 5th and 6th I think – impressive stuff!
That night I was staying at my brothers place in Brighton. I’d figured that recovery after each stage was going to be key. As the next days racing was near Chichester staying in Brighton meant about 2 hours less travel and more sleep. We ate a curry and I went to bed reasonably early. It was a hot night, and sleeping on the floor wasn’t very comfortable TBH, but it was probably better than two long drives and a night being woken up by the kids.
Stage 2 – Team Time Trial
This was the stage we were going to miss Dave the most. Every other team had 4 riders and could afford to lose or sacrifice one along the route as the teams time would be measured on the 3rd man over the line. The route was 1km of flat, followed with about 5 or so km of climbing, a bit of flat then 4km of straight flat out descent. On the warm up I suggested that the best thing we could do would be for me to do the first flat bit, then Bill and Rich to 2up the climb whilst I tried to hang on in their slipstream, then I drill it on the downhill as hard as I could. Given the circumstances it was the best plan we could come up with, and we executed it pretty well too. I put in a measured effort on the flat, hitting about 45kmh. Then my heart rate dipped into the red a bit keeping up with the other two up the climb. Going up the climb we had to slow twice, once for an oncoming tractor and then a post office van decided to do a three point turn just in front of us too. Neither time did we have to stop, but did check the brakes and freewheeled a bit. Toward the top I started feeling good, put in a quick turn on the flat at the top, then sat back in. Approaching the junction at the top of the descent a little red car overtook us then slowed us up. Rich went to overtake, but then the driver floored it away from us. I then took the lead position and drilled my hardest gear until I was spinning out, tucked for a bit, then drilled 120rpm down the hill. I started blowing a bit near the bottom, again my heart rate had been over 180bpm for a minute or so, I flicked my elbow for someone else to take a turn. Rich said he tried to go around me, but couldn’t. I then found a bit more puff and managed to keep the momentum going to the line. We weren’t last, and were under a minute down on the fastest time, but only about 30 seconds down on second place – so the damage limitation plan was a success.
Stage 3 – Circuit race around Goodwood
I wasn’t sure how I’d do considering a) the previous two stages had seen me maxing my CV system out hard and b) it was longer than the usual 1 hour crits I am used to. But, crits do suit me, so I was looking forward to this one. Again, I was going to miss Dave as I was hoping I’d get a lead out train from my team mates and maybe contend the sprint. After the TTT in the morning I spent most of the afternoon lying down and stretching. I tried to eat as much as I could too, but was finding this hard due to a mix of fatigue, it being a hot day and nerves.
The pace was FAST, averaged about 45kmh. However, most of the race felt quite easy and was pretty uneventful. Only once or twice did the effort feel like the crits I’m used to at the Cyclopark. There were a few breaks, and at one point all three of the Bigfoot team were in one, we got reeled in quite quickly though! One break (of about 6 guys?) did keep away, the peloton put in an effort to chase them but it was too late. In the last lap I tried to move up, but every time I did I was muscled out of a good position. I put in a halfhearted sprint, and finished in the bunch somewhere, maybe in the top 20-30? In the end I led Bill out over the line.
After the race Bill and I convoyed in our cars homewards. When I got home I ate a big bowl of spaghetti and used my massaging pillow on my legs. Was good to sleep in my own bed. The kids did wake me up in the morning, but I got just enough sleep. Woke up feeling OK, but could certainly feel that the legs had been racing.
Stage 4 – Ladies Mile Road Race
The two road races were going to be the real tests for me. Neither were flat. The Ladies Mile circuit consists of a climb, a descent and a lump. My plan for the race was to stick in the bunch, do as little work as possible, drink and eat as much as possible when I could and avoid getting cramp. That’s what I did. After about an hour of racing I seriously thought I’d not be able to finish, I was finding it very hard work. But I kept telling myself that it was the same for everyone else, don’t worry about what might happen in an hours time, just concentrate on what’s going on NOW. There were quite a few potholes on the climb, so I made an effort to get in a position in the bunch that helped me avoid them. I also worked out where the wind was blowing from and made sure I was sheltered from it. This seemed to make a difference and I started to feel better.
At some point a break got away. After 2 hours of racing I realised that I was going to make it to the finish. As soon as I stopped worrying about not making it I felt so much better – PMA! On the last lap the pace picked up a bit and we went past a couple of riders who’d been dropped from the break. I was still worried about making it up the last climb so was measuring my effort. I managed to keep up with the bunch and on the last climb I was so surprised to see the finish line whilst I went past other riders I thought that it can’t be the actual finish so I never actually pulled the trigger, and went over the line feeling like I missed a chance of making up more time. Despite this I was still really happy that I’d finished strong.
After the race I drove to my mums house to spend the afternoon and sleep over. My body was feeling very achy by now. I ate very well, had a soak in the bath and an early night. I felt a lot better after a decent nights sleep. Was missing the kids though.
Stage 5 – Beachy Head Road Race
This was always going to be the real test for me. The climb on the BH circuit isn’t very steep, but it is long and the wind does make it harder. The day of the race was pretty still, but there was still a slight headwind on the climb. It was a very hot day, and keeping hydrated was going to be tough. I had two 800ml bottles to last the 3+hrs, I was hoping it’d be enough. Lots of other riders had people handing them bottles at the feed station at the top of the climb. This meant I was lugging the best part of 1KG more than these guys up Beachy Head for over half the race, as well as this my bike probably weighed a kilo more than most of the competition and I probably weighed 10-15kg more than most of the other riders too! I was still going to do my best to finish though.
The race started with a climb out of Eastbourne up a reasonably steep set of hairpins. I was almost out of the race straight away when my chain came off and wouldn’t go back on. I was off the back of the peloton at the point when Rich and Bill decided to attack everybody. Cheers guys! I got my chain back on and BURIED myself to get back to the bunch. Phew, I made it! I was hanging on for the first lap and was near the back of the peloton when it split going up the first climb. There were gaps all over the place in front of me. Great, that’s the race over before its really begun.
A groupetto formed from all the dropped riders and we got organised. We drilled through and off for something like 3 laps and slowly reeled the peloton back in. We eventually caught back on the back of the peloton at the start of the climb – well done lads! We were now about halfway through the race and I was thinking that I might actually make it to the finish. However, another attack soon broke the peloton to pieces again and I was in the wrong place at the wrong time – i.e. the back. I spent a lap tying to chase back on thinking that I might catch another dropped rider or three and then somehow make the bridge back to the peloton. But I didn’t see anyone else in front of me so I decided to take the next climb easy and maybe a groupetto would catch me up, it didn’t. However at the top of the climb there was one rider waiting on the line and he jumped on my wheel and we rode 2up for two laps. With 1 lap to go my legs were in bits and I called it quits. A few minutes later the lead riders made it to the finish, Rich had been in the break made it home in second place, well done Rich! Bills legs had given up on the last climb, but he made it to the finish – chapeau Bill.
It was never going to be my race, but I’m happy I did as well as I did. I learnt a bit more about what my body is capable of, had fun doing so and got to know a few of my fellow racers a bit better. Not sure if I will do this race again, if I do I will need to lose some serious weight and train more – don’t know if I can fit both these things into my life TBH. Maybe I’ll stick to the local crits and TTs from now on – oh and I have the Pru to win in a couple of weeks too 🙂